Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Tans lecture speaker Maajid Nawaz needs to get his facts straight, says Lana Sirri, assistant professor at the Centre for Gender and Diversity. In this opinion piece she fact-checks some claims he made during his lecture and warns for the dangers of downplaying Islamophobia.
“No idea should be above scrutiny”. Commendably, Maajid Nawaz assured a Maastricht audience recently during his Tans lecture on 30 October that this is his maxim in life.
A revealing moment in Nawaz’s lecture calling for reform in Islam, came in the Q&A session. A skeptical audience member highlighted some of the lecture's many factual errors. Nawaz’s response was astonishing. Forgetting his maxim, he appealed to us not to get distracted by detail and “lose the wood for the trees”.
To adopt Nawaz’s forestry analogy, it is a basic principle of forest management that a forest is endangered when its trees are not healthy. If those trees are not well-rooted, they perish. If Nawaz cares about the forest then he should care about the trees.
At Maastricht University we do detail. We work in forestry management. As educators and as leaders in learning, we are hired and required to defend the highest standards of academic ethics. Fact-checking is in our job description. Fortunately, Nawaz's lecture provides an opportunity to apply his maxim through fact-checking.
Referencing a survey by ComRes, Nawaz described British Muslims' attitudes to the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks, saying:
“Over a quarter of British Muslims surveyed said they sympathised - not with those murdered that day - but with the jihadist attackers…”
But the survey did not say this. ComRes found that 27% of British Muslims had “some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks” - obviously not the same thing as sympathy with the attackers. One can have some sympathy for a position - even minimal sympathy - while condemning actions deriving from that position. Interestingly, the survey failed to assess attitudes among British non-Muslims for comparison.
Moreover, Nawaz’s additional nugget “not with those murdered that day” had no factual basis. The survey did not ask British Muslims about their sympathy for the victims. Nawaz’s addition was ‘creative’.
Nawaz next skipped to the multi-dimensional problem of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). His analysis was uni-dimensional.
FGM is considered by many as child abuse. If we are to meet the UN's goal of eliminating it by 2030 - oversimplification is not an option. FGM is practiced primarily - but not exclusively - in African countries. In addition to Muslim communities, it is practiced by Christians in Egypt, Kenya and Sudan and also by Jews from Ethiopia according to the WHO.
FGM is not advocated by the Koran, Bible, Talmud or Torah. Islamic scholars condemn it as “un-Islamic”. Experts recommend culturally sensitive interventions and socioeconomic support for girls at risk. Despite reporting a dramatic drop in FGM rates since 1995, a recent peer-reviewed study in BMJ Global Health warns against complacency. Nawaz's complacent solution ignores both experts and non-Muslim girls suffering FGM. It is simple. Reform Islam.
Nawaz next used the small number of women Imams in European mosques to illustrate European Muslims' misogyny. This low number was hard-fought-for by Muslim feminists. So, in solidarity with our Catholic sisters, Muslim feminists humbly offer our support. Because in Europe’s many thousands of Catholic churches is even one female priest permitted to say Mass?
Finally, Nawaz referenced a study of British ‘paedophile grooming gangs’ claiming that 84% of cases involve one specific ethno-religious group. As an academic, I will not perpetuate the claim by naming that group because the study is not peer-reviewed. Moreover, the study published by Nawaz’s Quillam foundation - a think-tank - has been rubbished by experts in the field of child sexual exploitation. Dr. Ella Cockbain, has called it “quite probably the worst piece of ‘research’ I’ve ever read” with further criticism voiced by Professor Aisha Gill, Dr Naomi Murphy and Professor Dave Walsh.
Finally, Nawaz reassured us that Islamophobia is not “racism” since Islam is not a race. Applying such semantics, and recalling that human geneticists dispute the existence of races as a “social construct”, Nawaz must agree that racism is itself a mirage. Problem solved. But the fact remains - the denial of bigotry is the very essence of bigotry.
By downplaying Islamophobia, as a British Muslim, Nawaz gave us licence to indulge in it, leading to a chilling question from the audience: “what do we do about these people?”
Anti-Muslim sentiments are held by 35% of the Dutch population. Following Nawaz's lecture, that percentage is unlikely to have decreased. What we witnessed recently in Maastricht - the symbolic capital of European integration - was the sowing of another seed of European disintegration through the scape-goating once again of one of our minorities. Two weeks ago, I heard an ode to despair in Maastricht, not an ode to joy. I reject it as an educator and as a scholar. I reject it as a woman, a Muslim, a feminist, as an Arab and as a citizen of Europe.
Lana Sirri, assistant professor at the Centre for Gender and Diversity